The winding down of the election petition tribunals nationwide earlier this month is another evidence that our democracy is maturing. Safe for Taraba State, nowhere did prosecution of any petition or its outcome lead to any outbreak of violence. And it is gratifying that even the tragic fracas in Taraba was quickly brought to an end. We think this is noteworthy and commendable.
As provided for in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), many aggrieved politicians who were dissatisfied with the outcomes of the general elections had laid their petitions before the various election petitions tribunals. In many instances, the returns made by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) were upheld. In a few states, particularly, Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Taraba, the governorship elections and some state and national legislative constituencies were annulled for substantial non- compliance with the provisions of the Constitution and the Electoral Act, 2010. But as earlier stated, these verdicts were accepted by the losing parties involved without recourse to the kind of violence that was the unfortunate experience in the past.
For this, we congratulate the politicians for their maturity in submitting themselves to the requirement of the rule of law. We also express the hope that as we progress in our efforts to deepen the democratic content of our polity, this would become the norm.
We are, however, not unmindful of concerns over the conduct of some of the tribunals as well as reservations over their judgments. There have been allegations of corruption against some of the panelists. In some cases also, there have been conflicts in the verdicts delivered in cases that seem to be on all fours. For instance, while some of the tribunals held that elections could not be annulled on the basis of non-use of card readers which they hold to be alien to our electoral laws, others have indeed cancelled elections based on infractions from the use of the same card readers. Such contradictions do not help in advancing the course of our democracy.
Happily, those dissatisfied with the verdicts of the tribunals have approached the Court of Appeal for redress. This is how it should be. The framers of our Constitution foresaw this situation where electoral contests would become subjects of disputes and provided remedies. Aggrieved persons have the option to go on appeal for further resolution of their grievances, and if still dissatisfied could move further up to the Supreme Court, as in the case of presidential and governorship matters. And these would have to be concluded within a time frame of about 90 days. That these remedies are being explored is gladdening.
Election is a process. It begins with the registration of voters and ends with the conclusion of judicial adjudication over election disputes. We note with satisfaction that since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999, we have made steady progress in our electoral system as evidenced by the outcomes of the last election during which new technological innovations were introduced to clean up the process and make it less susceptible to manipulation. It is our hope that as we perfect this, election disputations would become less, reducing the need for judicial arbitration.
We, therefore, urge that as the petitions get to the upper courts, the grey areas of our electoral laws are made clearer such that the aggrieved and other Nigerians would find the outcome of the arbitration acceptable and justice seen to have be done. That way, our inclination for rules and laws will tower over recourse to self-help and violence, making our society a more peaceful and stable one for citizens and foreigners alike.